What is a condo?

A condo (short for “condominium”) is a privately owned unit within a larger residential building or complex. The owner controls the individual unit but not the full property it sits on. Instead, an owner shares the building, common spaces and amenities with other condo owners.

Condos can be occupied by their owners, or can be rented out. When you rent a condo, your landlord is the owner of the unit, and you rent directly from them.

So long as the laws of the jurisdiction are followed, the owner gets to decide who they’re willing to rent to, what rules they’re going to enforce and what prices they’re going to set. Because of this, you may see two neighboring condos in the same complex with differing rules, prices and designs.

What is an apartment?

An apartment is also a single unit within a larger residential building. However, these buildings are usually owned by companies who often hire property management firms to operate them. So when you lease an apartment, you’re likely renting from a company rather than an individual.

Since the entire building has the same owner, the units typically have the same look, rents are fixed (depending on the unit type), and everyone in the community is required to follow one set of rules.

As you can see, there are similarities between condo and apartment living. As an outsider, you might not even be able to tell the difference between the two. But as a tenant, there are some key distinctions you’ll want to know about before making the move.

What’s the difference between a condo and an apartment?

The main difference between a condo and an apartment is in the ownership of the property.

Properties in a condominium are individually owned, while properties in an apartment building are all owned by a single entity.

Each of these scenarios has its own set of pros and cons for those looking to rent.

Amenities

Woman getting ready to swim in indoor swimming pool at hotel or apartment building complex - condo amenities.
Maridav / Shutterstock

Both condo and apartment buildings often come with pleasant amenities. These can include swimming pools, gyms, tennis courts, concierge services and more.

Yet when it comes to the niceties, the difference between an apartment and a condo community is in their interior features.

Since condos are individually owned, the owners are likely to have updated and remodeled the unit’s interior. They may have lived in the condo themselves and chosen to upgrade its “stock” appearance. Or, they may have simply realized that investing in marble countertops or stainless steel appliances would allow them to charge more rent.

In an apartment building, all the units are similar and, unless they’ve been remodeled, often have the same amenities as they did when they were originally built. So if you’re thinking about renting an older apartment, don’t expect a modern look.

Maintenance

Plumber.
kurhan / Shutterstock

No matter where you choose to rent, you’re bound to experience maintenance issues at some point. These are handled differently in condos than in apartments.

In an apartment, you’ll often have free maintenance service to fix that broken air conditioner or leaky faucet any time of day. Getting help is often as easy as hopping online and submitting a maintenance request. For urgent issues, renters will usually have an emergency maintenance number they can call.

For a renter, maintenance is, in many cases, easier in an apartment than a condo.

When renting a condo, your lease agreement may specify who is responsible for different types of issues. When you need something fixed, you’ll often have to coordinate with your landlord directly.

If you have a responsive landlord who lives right around the corner, this process could be quick and painless. But if they live far away, don’t answer their phone often, or take forever to send help, you may run into some inconveniences.

As an example, I once rented a condo where the toilet-flushing mechanism snapped. Every week, I reminded my landlord about the problem, but it was never fixed. I ended up having to stick my hand in the tank to flush manually for the remaining three months of my contract. Not cool.

Rental costs

Pay Rent Note Made Using Red Marker In Paper Calendar
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

So, which is more expensive to rent: a condo or an apartment?

The answer is — it depends.

No matter which type of property you choose, the price you pay will depend on the unit’s amenities and location.

In other words, if you find a condo and an apartment in the same neighborhood with similar amenities, the price should be about the same.

The difference is in how you pay and what you pay for.

Renting a condo

When it comes to condo rentals, you’ll be working with the landlord directly and will most likely be paying with cash or check. The owner may accept online payments if they’re tech-savvy, but don’t count on it.

Your contract also will state which expenses you are responsible for. You may have to pay for natural gas, internet, electricity and homeowners association (HOA) fees separately, but sometimes these costs are bundled together with your monthly rent.

Renting an apartment

rental agreement contract with red pen and male hand and keys
Ralf Kleemann / Shutterstock

When it comes to renting an apartment, you typically pay your rent through the apartment’s online payment portal.

While the ability to pay online is convenient, there are a few extra steps. Apartments don’t bundle utilities into your monthly rent. You must pay utilities such as internet, gas and electricity separately to each provider.

Cost of owning

The main difference between condos and apartments in the context of homeownership is that apartment units cannot be purchased individually.

Condos, on the other hand, can be bought. They typically offer a cheaper cost of ownership than, say, a detached single-family home. This is because you own only your unit and an interest in the common areas, but not the land the property sits on.

Since you’re not paying for a yard, your mortgage is often more affordable.

And while you may be responsible for HOA fees, you do not have to spend additional money (or time) on exterior maintenance.

Rules and regulations

The downside to both condos and apartments is that, by living there, you agree to follow certain (sometimes frustrating) rules.

In condos, these are set by the HOA. Rules can vary widely and regulate such things as parking, pet types and sizes, noise policies, decor guidelines and more. In addition to HOA rules, you’ll also have to follow your landlord’s rules.

That’s a lot of rules. To avoid problems, make sure you are aware of them all before moving in.

In an apartment, all tenants follow the same set of rules set by the building’s owner or property manager. Often, these include strict regulations about interior modifications to the apartment (painting, making holes in the walls, etc.). These rules can make it hard to add a personal touch and make your apartment feel like home.

Condominium vs. apartment: Which should I choose?

couple standing with their backs towards camera. man pointing to apartment window for brunette woman
BlueSkyImage / Shutterstock

The truth is, it’s impossible to say whether condos or apartments are always the better choice.

There are good condos, and there are bad condos. The same goes for apartments.

The best way to decide for yourself is to forget about condo versus apartment distinctions and simply evaluate each property individually.

As you do this, here are some important questions to ask:

  • What amenities does are offered? How much value and convenience will they add to my life? Will I actually use them?
  • What are the rules? Are there any deal breakers?
  • Is the location safe and convenient?
  • Does my landlord seem like a person I could get along with? Does he or she seem responsible — and easily reachable if I need help?
  • How important to me is a remodeled condo with amenities? Are those things worth the extra cost?
  • Is the price comparable to similar units in the area? Is it better?

By using this checklist to assess each rental property, you’ll be sure to pick a winner — whether that be a condo or an apartment.

About the Author

Mitchell Glass

Mitchell Glass

Freelance Contributor

Mitchell is a freelance contributor to MoneyWise.com.

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